In the spring of 2011 we spent 18 days in Turkey thru-hiking the Lycian Way. Immediately after completing that route, we spent 13 days walking on the Saint Paul Trail (SPT). Finally, we flew to northeastern Turkey and hiked for eight days in the Kaçkar Mountains. This report has some general information about walking in Turkey and details specific to the Lycian Way. A second report discusses the Saint Paul Trail and a third covers our experiences in the Kaçkar Mountains.
Walking in Turkey: General Information
We traveled in Turkey in 2011. Since then, the internal political situation there has noticeably deteriorated. The current Prime Minister is an autocrat and personal liberties within the country have been significantly curtailed. We have no idea what this might mean to a foreign tourist, but it is likely that Turkish citizens are more careful about what they say and do in public. A significant high point of our travels in Turkey was the open and rewarding interactions with people we met along the way. Hopefully, the situation will improve in the future.
We find this immensely sad, as the Turkish people we met on our trip were as friendly and welcoming as we have encountered anywhere. We have traveled in rural areas in about 20 countries, either hiking or bird-watching, and have never been to a place where we felt more at ease with the residents. In the tourist areas, the interactions are like those in every other tourist destination in the world: people want to sell you something. But otherwise, folks we encountered seemed genuinely outgoing and friendly. Shopkeepers, villagers, shepherds with their goats, women working the fields, kids in the school yards, and tomato wranglers working at the greenhouses, nearly everybody was welcoming, often indicating with hand gestures and words an invitation to stop for tea or a meal or a place to sleep. Big smiles, outstretched hands, and a warm reception were the norm.
Turkey has several low cost airlines that offer internal city-to-city flights. The two flights that we booked in advance were very inexpensive, on time, on new aircraft, and were professionally run. Antalya has a major airport with many flights per day to Istanbul and other Turkish cities and direct flights to other European destinations.
Bus transport was easy and reliable. Long distance buses are modern, run on schedule, are comfortable, and include complimentary snack and beverage services. A dolmus is a small, local bus, and make frequent runs between smaller towns. These buses are found everywhere. Bus agents were very helpful in making sure we took the right bus.
Hitching a ride was easy on the one occasion we did so, although it was an hour before the first car came down the road. The driver picked us up, drove us out of his way to a location where he flagged down the appropriate bus, told the driver where we needed to go, and sent us on our way.
Food and Water
Developed public springs are found in all inhabited places and along many roads and paths. Ground water was also frequently available from streams, wells and cisterns. It may be much dryer later in the year.
Food is available in many, but not all, of the small towns and villages along the routes; the guidebooks and updates on Clow’s website provide some listings. Many of the shops were small and had a very limited selection of items for sale. We did not carry a stove and our staples were bread, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, crackers, yogurt, and chocolate. Occasionally we added olives, canned stuffed grape leaves or tuna, and, if we were fortunate, fresh fruit and vegetables. Flexibility is paramount: if you are fussy or have strict dietary requirements, you will probably be unhappy.
Bigger towns have restaurants; selections may be limited and menus often did not exist. Proprietors always helped us to figure out what we needed to order to get a complete meal. The restaurant meals were always at least palatable and were often quite good. We appreciated both the variety and novelty of foods and the opportunity to mix with other patrons having a meal.
We ate anything served to us, and we drank untreated spring and tap water throughout the trip with no problems.
In the tourist areas, we were occasionally overcharged. Restaurant bills would not add up correctly; the total price of groceries at small shops was sometimes suspiciously high. Grocery stores and most restaurants did not list prices, and we learned to ask the cost of dishes before we ate, so that we were not surprised by the bill at the end of the meal. This was much less of an issue outside of the areas that commonly serve tourists.
In 2011, for two people, we spent a total of $3500 for our entire trip, including all flights and the week in the Kaçkars:
- $1915 airfare: international from SFO + 2 domestic flights
- $65 for three guide books plus an iPhone dictionary application
- $225 for six nights in pensions
- $160 for bus fares
- $1135 for food and miscellaneous other stuff.
English, or lack thereof
Outside of Istanbul, most people we met spoke very little or no English and we met only a few who spoke enough English to have more than a rudimentary conversation. Amy completed five very helpful lessons of Pimsleur’s Turkish Language program. In hindsight, she wished that she had invested the time to complete more of the lessons. It was possible to communicate the basics for shopping, bus tickets, and booking rooms with no language overlap, but we found it extremely frustrating to have a cup of tea with somebody and have no ability to say anything in Turkish other than “I don’t speak Turkish”, “please”, “hello”, “thank you”, and “very beautiful” and to understand nothing other than “welcome!” and “tea” and “Obama very good”.
There is a chance that when you stop at a tea-shop or market that at least one of the men in their 50’s or 60’s will have worked abroad and speak some French or German. We had more luck with French than with English. We were surprised that even most university students we met did not speak any English.
People will often try to ask where you are from by guessing a country. The first guess is usually Almanca (German) so if you hear that word you should state your nationality to clear up any confusion. Alternately, just say your nationality when you shake hands. Güle güle is the common way people will say goodbye.
Pimsleur’s Turkish Language course; free at many public libraries.
We used the excellent Collins Turkish Dictionary with Audio iPhone Application. We tried several other free or inexpensive apps and found they were not worthwhile. Collins still sells a Turkish Dictionary iPhone app but it appears to be different than the one we used.
Hand gestures are different in Turkey and worth learning. Here’s one list of gestures; a quick Google search will turn up many more articles and videos.
Free-ranging dogs are abundant in Turkey. A lot of these are working dogs guarding flocks of domestic animals or houses. Many barked and growled at us as we passed, but never actually got close enough to us that we felt directly threatened. Shaking our sticks or stooping to pick up some rocks to throw was usually enough to get them to leave us alone. On a few occasions we actually had to throw stones at the animals to make them back off.